Bee-killing pesticides commonly used in garden supplies may face new restrictions in California

Our decades-long love affair with pesticides has contributed to the global collapse of bee colonies, and all the plants and animals (including ours) that depend on these powerful pollinators. ) has now been shown to have a negative impact on As such, a law effective January 1 will require California farmers to use neonicotinoids, especially those that have been linked to harm to bees, during times when bees are most likely to be foraging. Using one is prohibited.

But while recent research increasingly links neonics to both broader ecological problems and serious human health conditions, new state regulations focus solely on protecting bees.

There are also no regulations currently restricting the use of neonics in ornamental plants and lawns around California homes, businesses and parks, or in products such as pet flea repellents. Instead, some manufacturers and retailers have voluntarily phased out neonico products in response to these growing concerns, but the pesticides are still commonly used in popular products. .

Neonics and other pesticides (including those not approved for use in California) also enter soils, waterways, animals and people through the use of pesticide-coated seeds. Although such seeds are widely used, they are not currently regulated in the state.

Two bills, backed by a coalition of Democratic lawmakers and environmental activists, aim to address that gap.

One is to have California regulators complete a study by July 2024 on how neonics affect pollinators, water systems, and human health. The Pesticides Regulatory Agency also has until July 2026 to adopt regulations on the use of pesticides on ornamental plants, trees and lawns.

Another bill closes the so-called “treated seed loophole,” which is also the subject of an ongoing state lawsuit.

According to Natural Resources Defense Council staff attorney Lucas Rose, who is leading the push for the bill, proponents of the bill want to ban neonics altogether and stop farmers from buying treated seeds. It is said that he will not do it. Instead, Rose said they are trying to establish “common sense regulations” and tools that can address the “extensive harm” these products can cause.

“Both of these bills are a win-win,” Rose said, protecting public health and the environment while also protecting bees and other pollinators that farmers rely on to keep their agricultural landscapes healthy. I insisted.

But farmers are fighting back. They point out that state regulators are already studying these issues and that banning or severely restricting these products before studies are complete would limit options to control some pests and create a new set of problems. pointed out that it can cause

“We oppose excessive programs that deprive farmers of necessary tools and new technology,” said Lenny Pinell, president of the Western Plant Health Association, which represents fertilizer and crop protection companies in California, Arizona and Hawaii.

Despite such opposition, Congress easily passed both bills last month. If the bill passes the state Senate this summer, it will be up to Governor Gavin Newsom whether California will join a small but growing number of states restricting non-agricultural uses of neonics, and whether the Golden State will join. will be entrusted to Paving the way for Japan’s first regulation of pesticide-treated seeds.

popular but controversial

Neonics, short for neonicotinoid insecticide, was first used in the mid-1990s and quickly became the most widely used insecticide in the country.Institute of Natural Health report By the early 2010s, nearly a third of all non-organic corn and soybeans grown in the United States were made from neonics-coated seeds.

This product has become so popular because it can penetrate plant tissues and render everything from roots to leaves to pollen toxic to target insects. But while these products are meant to repel pests such as beetles and aphids that can wreak havoc on crops and other plants, Neonics does not discriminate.

Studies have linked pesticides to health problems and deaths in all kinds of insect populations, with 20 years of research showing how pesticides can harm them. . bees. Pests, parasites and lack of biodiversity are also problems. cause problems However, studies have found that when honeybees are exposed to neonics, their ability to avoid or survive these stressors is reduced.

After these concerns surfaced, in the mid-2000s, the State Pesticide Regulatory Agency spent the next 14 years researching how farmers’ use of neonics would affect their bee colonies and what could be done to mitigate the risks. I researched if it was possible.

Last year the state announced new regulations, This limits when and where farmers can apply neonics, for example avoiding neonics when flowering plants are in bloom. These rules, which take effect January 1, are expected to limit the application of 57 products currently registered for use in California, cutting the amount of neonics applied statewide by nearly half.

While these regulations focus on bee protection, recent research has also revealed a relationship between neonics and bees. loss of birdsdecreasing fish populationwildlife health problems (etc.) Birth defects in deer) and various problems for humans.

one study Children exposed to neonics through pet flea meds, for example, have been found to be at increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorders, a neurotoxin similar to nicotine that affects the brain. (Researchers said the association “justifies further investigation.”) Others found an increased risk of infection. amnesia Even adults heart Babies born near neonics-applied farms have been found to have problems, while animal studies have linked neonics to low sperm counts, thyroid problems, and delayed reflexes.

Most of humanity currently faces chronic neonics exposure.

Exposure comes through the produce we eat, often sprayed with pesticides or grown from pretreated seeds, even if it’s not organic. We also drink neonics because they move easily in water. About 93 percent of surface water in the Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties areas tested positive for the most popular type of neonics, according to one report. study Announced in 2021 by the California Pesticide Regulatory Agency.

More than 90 percent of pregnant women tested in California and four other states had at least one neonic pesticide in their bodies, the report said. Research published last year by the American Chemical Society.

The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing labeling requirements for neonics, and by the fall, federal agencies will make decisions about possible changes to printed warnings and proper use.

While the California Pesticides Regulatory Agency bases its assessments on human health effects on what was known before it registered neonics for use in California nearly 30 years ago, the deputy director of the agency’s pesticide program Jennifer Tearlink, who is currently on the regulatory “homestretch”, said. A comprehensive review of how different uses of neonics affect human health.

“We look forward to sharing it publicly as soon as possible,” Tierlink said.

After completing the study and setting new rules on the use of neonics in agricultural settings, Tialink said the department is focusing on evaluating non-agricultural uses of neonics.

But environmental groups say they don’t want to wait another 14 years for conservation.

rushing research and rules

In February, Rep. Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, San Ramon Democrat, introduced a bill that could potentially speed up the state’s scientific review process.

If Congress Bill 363 becomes law, the Pesticides Regulatory Agency will have until summer 2026 to complete a comprehensive study of neonics’ non-agricultural uses and adopt regulations for consumer use of those products.

Last year, Bauer Kahan submitted a bill to Congress banning the use of neonics in lawns and gardens, with an exception for exotic species only. This is consistent with neonics bans in place in New Jersey, Maine and Nevada, while seven other states allow only pesticide professionals to use neonics products.

But Newsom vetoed Bauer-Curhan’s bill last fall, saying the Pesticides Regulatory Agency would look into the issue this year. This year’s bill therefore focuses on ensuring that research is completed in a timely and comprehensive manner.

The department is reviewing the bill but cannot yet comment on whether the timeline mandated by the bill is feasible, spokeswoman Leia Bailey said Thursday.

As to why the Western Plant Health Association opposes AB 363, Pinell pointed out that most invasive insects enter California through non-agricultural settings such as tourism. So, she said, “it’s important to control the infestation of pests in non-agricultural environments.”

In considering these issues, Tearlink said the department will carefully consider how it might affect the health of California’s broader flora and ecosystems.

AB 363 passed parliament by a vote of 57 to 16, in line with party line. It is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

Seeds treated under the microscope

Bauer Kahan also supports Congress Bill 1042This will direct the Pesticides Regulatory Agency to develop regulations for seeds treated with pesticides prior to planting.

No state currently has such a rule, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.New York Congress this week Approved the relevant banthe governor there is currently considering it.

Federal law, on the other hand, requires that all pesticides used on seeds be registered with the EPA. And if the application was made in California, the pesticide must also be registered here. However, once the seed is treated, state and federal regulations do not consider the seed itself to be a “pesticide” and therefore do not track or regulate its use.

For example, California regulators cannot tell farmers not to plant pesticide-treated seeds next to sensitive waterways, Rose said. Nor can California stop farmers from using seeds treated with illegal pesticides.

One study found that only 43% of treated seed used in California is coated with pesticides registered for use there. study The state’s Department of Food and Agriculture conducted a study from 2010 to 2021. While the study failed to identify registrations for 15% of the pesticides used, the EPA had canceled the use of nearly one in 10 products in domestically distributed seeds.

Neonicos are often used for seed treatments. In fact, Rhodes said this is now likely the main route through which neonics enter the California environment. The treated seed is estimated to cover about 4 million acres of national farmland.

Proponents of the use of treated seeds argue that the practice actually leads to long-term reductions in pesticide use by farmers. But Rose says the argument is based on misleading data. Instead of treating plants only when pests develop, all seeds are now being actively treated, which leads to an increase in overall usage and contamination, he said.

According to a 2020 study cited by the Pesticides Administration, only 2-3% of the pesticides coated on seeds are taken up by the plants themselves. Another 2% to 3% are blown away during planting (although Pinel said that number is declining due to new innovations in seed coatings and planting equipment), and 90% of the pesticides found in seed coatings. More is absorbed by soil, water, or non-target plants. . That’s why studies link high use of treated seeds to large-scale water pollution in agricultural areas, Rose said.

With these data in mind, the Natural Resources Defense Council led other environmental groups in February this year to sue the Pesticides Regulatory Agency, accusing it of failing to fulfill its mandate by not regulating pesticide-treated seeds. claimed. The attorney general’s office responded last week, asking the judge to drop the case, arguing in court records that the regulator acted in accordance with the law. A public hearing in the case is scheduled for August 18.

Meanwhile, AB 1042 passed Congress by a vote of 53 to 19. He currently serves on the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

Both bills need to pass the Senate by Sept. 14. Newsom then has 30 days to sign or veto. Bee-killing pesticides commonly used in garden supplies may face new restrictions in California

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